What the MMR vaccine protects you from
The MMR vaccine protects from 3 diseases. It is not possible to separate these diseases out. For example, there is no ‘measles only’ vaccine available in New Zealand.
Of all diseases, measles is one of the most dangerous and contagious. It’s so infectious that, if you’re not vaccinated and come into contact with someone who has measles, you’re very likely to catch it and pass it on to others.
Measles spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can cause a rash, ear infection, diarrhoea, and seizures caused by fever.
In 1 in every 1,000 cases, it causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Some people who develop encephalitis die, while 1 in 3 are left with permanent brain damage.
Measles can also lead to pneumonia, which is the main cause of death from measles.
If you get measles while you’re pregnant it can make you very sick and can harm your baby.
Measles is now the third most common vaccine-preventable cause of death among children throughout the world.
During New Zealand’s last measles outbreak in 2019, 40% of children who caught measles were admitted to hospital.
More about measles – IMAC
Why New Zealand is at high risk of a measles outbreak
With active measles cases around the world, Aotearoa New Zealand is at very high risk of measles coming into the country.
Not enough people in New Zealand are immunised against measles, which means it could just take a single case of measles to start an outbreak.
We need at least 95% of people living in New Zealand to be immunised to prevent an outbreak of measles. Importantly, this would also protect babies too young to be vaccinated, and those who are severely immunocompromised.
On average, 1 dose is 95% effective against measles, and 2 doses is more than 99% effective against measles.
Mumps is an infectious illness caused by a virus. It leads to painful swelling in the salivary glands around the face.
In rare cases, there can be serious complications such as:
- hearing loss
- meningitis – an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
- encephalitis – inflammation of the brain.
Mumps can cause swelling of the testicles or ovaries if infected after puberty. Effects on fertility are extremely rare in males and unconfirmed in females.
New Zealand had an outbreak of Mumps in 2017. This only settled and finally disappeared with the first COVID-19 lockdown because the disease wasn't able to spread easily.
More about mumps – IMAC
For children, rubella is usually a mild viral illness that causes a spotty rash. If you catch it when you are pregnant, however, it can cause serious birth defects in your baby (such as deafness, heart defects, and brain damage).
More about rubella – IMAC
When it’s given and catching up
The MMR vaccine is offered to tamariki on the schedule at 12 months and 15 months, but an additional early dose may be available if there is an outbreak of measles.
For those who missed out on their MMR immunisations, it’s free for everyone under 18 years old – it does not matter what your visa or citizenship status is. This includes visitors to Aotearoa New Zealand.
For people over 18 years old, the MMR vaccine is free if you’re a resident, or eligible for free healthcare in New Zealand. Adults born before 1969 are not able to have an MMR vaccine.
Booking a vaccination appointment
Vaccination sites that give MMR vaccinations – Healthpoint
Catching up on missed immunisations
Pēpi (babies) 6 to 11 months
If there is a measles outbreak, or if you’re travelling to a country with an active measles outbreak, pēpi between the ages of 6 and 11 months may be advised to have an additional free dose of the MMR vaccine early. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider about this.
It’s very important your child still has their scheduled 2 doses at 12 and 15 months old.
Tamariki 12 months and 15 months old
The MMR vaccine is free and offered to tamariki at 12 months and 15 months.
If your child missed their MMR vaccine it’s free for them to catch up.
If you’re unable to confirm if they’ve already had 2 doses, they should get vaccinated anyway. There’s no risk in having extra doses.
Adults born after 1 January 1969
Many adults and rangatahi (young people) born between 1989 and 2004 in New Zealand were not vaccinated against measles.
Adults need to be up to date with MMR vaccinations to protect themselves and their community. For best protection, 2 doses are needed, a minimum of 4 weeks apart.
To check whether you have been vaccinated, contact your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider.
If you’re unable to find out if you have been vaccinated, it’s recommended you get vaccinated as soon as possible. There’s no risk in getting extra MMR doses – it’s important to know you’ve had 2 doses.
The MMR vaccine is free for:
- everyone under 18 years old (it does not matter what their visa or citizenship status is) and
- those eligible for free healthcare in New Zealand (who were born on or after 1 January 1969).
Who can get free healthcare in New Zealand – Te Whatu Ora
Adults born before 1969
Adults born in New Zealand before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1969 are not considered at risk from measles and do not need an MMR vaccine. This is because measles was common in New Zealand at the time, so most people built natural immunity from exposure.
Immunocompromised people cannot have the MMR vaccine
Anyone who has a severely weakened immune system cannot have the MMR vaccine – for example, people having cancer treatment.
To protect them, it’s very important all whānau around immunocompromised people are fully vaccinated against MMR.
If you’re pregnant
You cannot have the MMR vaccine when you are pregnant. If you’re planning a baby, it’s free to find out if you’re immune to rubella. If you’re not, it’s free to get vaccinated.
After your baby is born, it may be recommended that you have a free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation. You should do this as soon as you can.
Immunisation and pregnancy
If you’re travelling to countries that have measles in their community, it’s really important you and your whānau are up to date with your MMR vaccinations. You can check current outbreaks on the following websites:
How to book a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine
Getting immunised against measles, mumps, and rubella is easy, and it’s free.
Contact your usual doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider to book an appointment.
People over 2 years old can get an MMR vaccine at lots of pharmacies. You can search for one near you on Healthpoint.
Pharmacies offering MMR vaccinations – Healthpoint
Some sites offer group appointments for immunisations. Contact your doctor, nurse, healthcare provider, or pharmacy to see if your whānau can have a group appointment so you can all get vaccinated together.
Which vaccine is used
The vaccine we use in New Zealand is Priorix. This vaccine which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. 2 doses, at least a month apart, are needed for best protection.
There is no ‘measles only’ vaccine available in New Zealand.
Priorix is a live vaccine. Live vaccines contain bacteria or viruses that have been weakened so that they can't cause disease. This small amount of virus or bacteria stimulates an immune response.
Priorix information – Medsafe (PDF)
Video: The measles vaccine with Dr Hina Lutui